Sunday, December 7, 2008


I love this! My friend Akbar posted this on Facebook. It is such a good example of people making art that is modern and edgy without being cynical. In fact, it's freakin' uplifting and inspirational.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hey 52% of CA, You Can't Stop the Beat!

This is one of my favorite theater songs of all time. God Bless Hairspray. Let me not fake like I am cool. This is one of my favorite songs period.

And, in the wake of the devastation of Prop 8, I believe that the 52% of folks in CA who voted yes on this horrendous proposition need to check out these lyrics. They need to know that, no matter what they think they have accomplished this week, that ultimately, they "can't stop an avalanche as it races down the hill..."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Growing Real Food is Genius

Will Allen, Founder and CEO of Growing Power, has just won the MacArthur Genius Grant. This man is my new favorite hero. Talk about creative. Sometimes, creativity comes from going back to basics.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pain in Happiness | Happiness in Pain

Sometimes I listen to this podcast from the Meditation Society of Australia. It's actually pretty helpful because each podcast comes in both lecture format and in guided meditation. So, it appeals to both my head and my heart.

Given my post yesterday about the sickness of the world, this podcast REALLY helped me today. One of the themes was about how happiness is not without pain. With Jennifer Hudson deep in my thoughts these days, I am hoping that she will eventually be able to connect to a spiritual place that will allow her to continue to celebrate her life's successes. Even be even more creative and powerful as a result of so much pain. Let's all keep her in our prayers. And let's support her new film...a spiritual story about transformation from what I remember reading the book.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tears for Jennifer Hudson | Tears for America

I don't know Jennifer but I wept for her today. I, for one, am grateful that Obama took some time out of campaigning to send his thoughts to her and her family. Of course, the anti-Obama folks thinks that he is just trying to get more exposure by doing this. That's just ridiculous. He may not be the president, yet, but he is a national leader and this is a national tragedy that he has to address.

This is not a national tragedy because Jennifer Hudson is a celebrity. This is a national tragedy because it is just one more sign that American society is imploding. I am not the doom and gloom type. I identify as a proud optimist and have supported Obama from the primaries because of his message of hope. I believe hope is a key ingredient for creativity and that creativity makes real change. But change is only possible if we, as a society, recognize that we are sick, why we are sick, and that we need to get better.

Check out what Jared Diamond says about societies collapsing on For some reason it is not letting me imbed the video here so check out the link.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Arts & Youth Development in Action | Young Men and Mosaics

As I have written and spoken about many times before, youth development is a simple concept to understand but, for some reason, it is very difficult to fully integrate its practices at a program or organizational level. I think it's because it requires that we as adults really look at our own stuff and work through our blocks around what young people are capable of. We have to not be afraid to let them go out there and do real work that has a real effect on the world. At the same time, we have to set very clear boundaries with very high standards for them to operate in. This balance of freedom and structures is hard for us to implement with young people because we often struggle to find this balance in our own lives.

I love when I see dead on examples of what positive youth development really looks like in practice. I often find that the most effective programs are related to arts. And it's not just my bias. Check out this video. It's about a community arts project involving young men creating mosaics in juvenile hall in Baltimore. It runs about 12 minutes...

Book Review | The Creative Family

Glitter & Razz is celebrating Mothers this month with a free gift. I am so excited about this. Anyone who registers for summer camps in the month of May or refers someone who registers will get from us a copy of the book, The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule.

Allison and I love this book. So many other "creativity" books for moms, families, and kids relegate "creativity" to the realm of craft and craft alone. This definition of creativity is limiting because it implies that, in order to be creative, one has to know how to sew or be permanently attached to her glue gun.

Don't get me wrong. I love craft projects. I am not surprised by the overwhelming popularity of scrapbooking. At the same time, my work is all about helping kids and the adults who love them understand the amazing power of personal and collective creativity to change the world. And there are so many ways to do this. In addition to crafts, we can nuture our creative energies through storytelling, dance, nature walks, or puzzles. Soule acknowledges the various ways that families can be creative including through everyday activities like bedtime and supper.

We always talk about the importance of a child's imagination. Even Soule's subtitle includes the phrase "how to encourage imagination." But, we rarely talk about how this imagination is the foundation of a full creative life. We also rarely talk about the importance of imagination in our adult lives. What I appreciate most about Soule's book is her openness to share her our creative journey with her children and then with us, the readers. She writes a lot about how her creative spirit has been re-awakened through her explorations with her children. And, she writes about the connections that a creative family life brings; connections to each other as a family, to the greater community, and to the Earth.

See? That's life-changing stuff right there.

This is the perfect book for modern families. Modern families are growing and changing in a world where new ideas are being called upon to solve age-old problems. Our modern families are not simply laying down to go night-night with the same old stories that we were given. We are questioning our role as mega-consumers who are willing to buy the same old messages of Dick and Jane and the prince coming to the princess' rescue. We modern families are actively re-writing new stories that value simplicity, kindness, and celebrate the fact that Jane and Jane and their kids just bought a condo a few doors down. We recognize that we all have our own unique stories to tell and that, by making the space to tell and listen to these new stories, we can all work together to change the world.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dee Hock and Charodic Theory

The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out...Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.

This quote has fascinated me for about a year now. I found it online and never knew who said it. Until today. This morning is was introduced to Dee Hock, the founder of Visa (yes, the credit card company) and his "chaordic" theory about organizations...the notion that healthy, adaptive systems will always exhibit a kind of dynamic tension between chaos and order. It fit in beautifully with the dynamic tension that he'd set up in Visa: encourage as much competition and initiative as possible throughout the organization -- "chaos" -- while building in mechanisms for cooperation -- "order."

There is a great article about him from Fast Company.

What does this have to do with our work as community artists and creative changemakers? A lot, potentially. There are many sectors, not just the corporate sector, who are looking at how to implement Hock's principles and practices into fundamental institutional change. The Fast Company article references Hock's work in the 90's with the Joyce Foundation (Chicago), currently a large funder of community arts.

So, in our field that is supposed to all be about change in a decentralized way, let's take these theories on and figure out what we can clear out in order to make some space for some magic to happen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Organized Artist

People praise me for/accuse me of being a big picture thinker. Mainly, I think it's great except that I occasionally/often miss The Details.

Luckily, I am smart enough to get help. If you are an artist/entrepreneur who needs help, I have a recommendation. Call Stefanie Archer and Creating Space for Change Consulting. She will rock your world. Allison and I hired her to help us organize Glitter & Razz and create systems that allow us to get out of our own way. She is in Boston but we worked with her via telephone and the coaching she gave us was life changing.

Yesterday, I had one of the best days of my professional life. It all started with my "creating space" and finally getting to the project of organizing my computer files. I was so excited to have our friend and artist, Teri Stockton, help me for the day as she is someone else who is blessed with the ability to think clearly and logically and understand what should go where.

As I was creating all of the space 2 magical things happened...

1. I was walking down to street to pick up lunch and I was stopped by a neighbor who literally handed me a check for $585 to put her daughter in our summer camp.

2. We received a message from our friends at Kaiser Elementary School (where we did a week-long camp last week) saying that the principal loved what we had done so much with that 1 kindergarten classroom that he wants to receive a proposal from us about how to bring Glitter & Razz to every child in the school next year.

I can't guarantee that working with Stefanie will bring you these exact results, but isn't it worth a try?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Grace with Mean Girls

Because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace finds goodness in everything


I have been trying to figure out lately what Grace really means. My usual source of all meaning, Wikipedia, wasn't initially helpful. So, I thought. I learned that Christians believe that Grace is our gift from God. It's how we attain salvation. Did you know this? It's not actually all the good deeds that we do on Earth that gets us into heaven. It's that God says to us, "Whatever you do, it's not gonna be enough anyway. I'm the holy one in this relationship. So, I'll just love you and let you in, regardless of yourself."

That's nice, isn't it?

I wish I had reacted with more Grace today in the class I was teaching. I have a 5th grade student who I have taught for a little while now and, the older she gets, the more attitude she gets. To be plain, she is rude and mean. To me. To other kids. And I have very little patience for her. Normally, I try to keep it together but today I just had it.

We were working on putting together all of their original pieces of choreography into one ensemble dance. It was already a tough process because many of the students were hyper and distracted, interrupting me whenever they felt like it. So, in the middle of it all, my little rude friend decides that she is going to top them all and question every little thing that I said and did; stopping all the action and playing a power game with me.

I said, while the whole rest of the class was watching, "You know what? I am tired of you always arguing with me. I am tired of it and I am done with it. This is over. Sit down."

She was not happy about it. In some ways I feel like I am not the worst teacher in the world because I didn't actually yell or scream. I was calm but I was mad. I don't even think I said anything to shame her in front of her friends.

I just wish I had dealt with her with more Grace. I wish, in future classes, that I can see beyond her rude and mean to her beauty and creativity and humanness. Because, I can't control what she does but I can control what I do.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

An Artist for Obama

I am a little behind on current events. Today, I finally saw the "race speech" that Barack Obama made in PA last month. I had heard that it was an impressive and important speech and I believe that is indeed true. Obama did an amazing job mining for hope in a society so based on hate and separation. As an Obama supporter, I feel very proud of the speech. I feel like I am supporting a candidate who actually believes in something and is going about the work of change with both his head and his heart.

But I am not that political. I see the world through the lens of art and creativity. So, I decided to watch another video where Obama talks about why he support arts education.

I wasn't as impressed or proud. I mean, don't get me wrong. It's great that any presidential candidate is taking any time to publicly talk about how No Child Left Behind is ruining children's arts experiences. I am thankful for that.

However, I am impatient in my need to build radical collaborations between artists, politicians, and various social change makers that are based in the real power of art to transform people and communities. I am so tired of the "music makes you smarter in math" argument. This is not helpful to the cause. The real power of both music and math is that they are languages that span cultures and give people superhuman powers to bring forth new ideas and new experiences that have never existed before. The real problem isn't that kids don't have "extra-curricular" (meaning, "Fun", ugh) activities in school anymore like we did. The real problem is that there are so few places (schools included) in our country where any of us are supported to step outside of our past, outside of our comfort zones, and harness our creativity in ways that bring about real positive, social change.

At the end of the important race speech, Obama tells that beautiful story of Ashley, the 23 year old white woman campaigning on his behalf and her connection to an elderly black man. He says of their connection, "By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children. But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger." At the same time, at the end of his speech about education where he supports the role of the arts, Obama says, "Part of what [art] teaches people is to see each other through each others teaches us to respect and understand people who are not like us."

As an artist, I look forward to working under Obama's presidency to help us all see that being involved in arts is not just a way for kids to have in school. Art is that essential starting place to help us go beyond our differences. It is a language we can use to break through the status quo and create the world we want to be a part of.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Superheroes of Kaiser Elementary School

Yesterday, I helped Ms. McGee's Kindergarten class at Kaiser Elementary School in Oakland perform their very own original play. The play was about superheroes. I was with them for an hour a day for 1 week. That's it. And that's all we needed to create a magical experience.

On the first day, I walked into a highly energetic class and asked them, "What do heroes do?" I was sad to hear responses like "Kill the bad guys." And "Punch the bad guys in the face." There are a lot of little boys in this class and they couldn't seem to get past the Spiderman/Batman/Power Ranger paradigm of the hero. We spent most of the week focusing on the idea that real heroes help people. They don't hurt people. Not even "bad guys." We worked to create our own original superheroes. And again, we worked hard to get past the images they are fed to us through the movies and on television.

Finally, we put a story together. We performed it as an ensemble (including Ms. McGee herself) for the class's 5th grade reading buddies and it took all that I had not to cry in the midst of all of the love and pride that I was a part of in that room.

Here is the story...

Once upon a time, there was a teacher named Ms. McGee. One day, she was getting ready for school. She brushed her teeth, ate her breakfast, got dressed and began her walk to school. On the way to school, she met up with a group of artists. These artists were painting, singing, and dancing. She said to them, "Good Morning, Artists." They said, "Good Morning Ms. McGee. Have a great day in school." And they all went on their way.

Next, she came upon a group of animals. The jaguars, panthers, and dogs (oh my)were running and playing. Ms. McGee said to them, "Good Morning, Animals." They said, "Good Morning Ms. McGee. Have a great day in school." And they all went on their way.

Next, she came upon a group of very Strong People. These strong people were working out, lifting weights, and working with very heavy tools. Ms. McGee said to them, "Good Morning, Strong People." They said, in very strong voices, "Good Morning Ms. McGee. Have a great day in school." And they all went on their way.

Finally, Ms. McGee was just about to get to school when a group of very Fast People ran right by her. They were so fast she could hardly see them but she said to them, "Good Morning, Fast People." And they said, very quickly, "Good Morning Ms. McGee. Have a great day in school." And they ran away.

Ms. McGee finally got to the school. She was just about to put her hand on the doorknob when she noticed a lot of construction going on. Suddenly, a huge crane came and picked the school up, up, and away! And the school disappeared. Ms. McGee said, "Oh no. This is a big problem. What am I going to do?"

Well, what Ms. McGee didn't know was that all of the people and animals she met on her walk to school were all superheroes and they were ready to come to her rescue. First the Super Fast heroes decided, "Let's go up to outer space and collect all the bricks and wood we need to build the school!" 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-BLAST OFF and away they went, super fast, to gather all the materials.

Then, the Super Strong heroes used their tools and super strength to re-build the school. They started from the floor and built all the way up, adding windows and doors. When they were done, they looked at their work and said, "We did it!"

"But wait!," said the heroes, "We have to paint the school. Let's ask the artists." So the artists came and painted the school red, black, pink, purple, and all the colors of the rainbow. "We need one more thing," said the Super Artists. "We need to bring to spirit back to the school." So, they sang the Kaiser School Song and brought the spirit back.

Now, the school was built, painted, and full of spirit. Except, it was missing some magic. Luckily, the Super Animals all had magic powers. So, they combined their magic together and brought the magic back to the school.

And that's how all of the Superheroes worked together to save the school.

The End.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Seeds of Peace | Part I

Yesterday was an awful day. One of the worst ones I've had in a long time. The stress of work along with the consistent growing pains caused my partner and I to fight. It was overwhelming and all around yucky.

And then something happened that made me remember why it all matters.

Allison and I were co-teaching one of our Itty Bitty Theater Workshops. One little girl, Maddie, fell while playing and bonked her chin. She cried. I walked with her over to the book nook to rest and read while she recovered.

Like a superhero/drama therapist, Allison brilliantly weaved the incident into what was happening on stage at time. She created a story with 12 children about a group of animals and playing together and an elephant getting hurt. She used the story to help the kids process their feelings about what had happened to Maddie.

In the midst of all of this brilliance, the littlest of all the girls in the class, Isiana, comes up to me with her hands cupped. To most of us, her hands appeared empty. But, she said to me, "It's candy. For her. It will make her feel better." I told Isiana that she had to stay on stage with Allison but that I would take her candy over to the healing girl.

When I got there, Maddie was still crying and being comforted by her mother. I interrupted them, showed them my hands full of invisible candy and said, "This is for you. From Isiana. She wants you to have it so you will feel better." Maddie's face lit up like a Christmas tree. I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to say to Isiana for her. "Thank you" was all she said.

When I returned to Isiana, I told her, "Maddie ate the candy and she told me to tell you 'thank you.'" Once again, Christmas tree.

The smiles of little girls. The spirit of giving and compassion. The power of imagination. These are all the seeds of peace. This is worth all the growing pains that life will throw at me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Don't Guys Clean Up?

There is a Bounty Paper Towel commercial on tv right now that is really upsetting me. A man and his son (presumably...commercials force us to make assumptions that support the status quo) are looking down at a spill and trying to determine how many Bounty towels it will take to clean it up. Eventually, the mom (presumably) emerges to reveal that it is a "1-sheet job."

The next shot shows a woman's hand (presumably) cleaning it up.

As someone whose work is based on the exploration of family values in the modern, progressive context, I can't believe that guys can't clean up on tv. I mean, I am angry enough that they don't let kids clean up. But it's dads too.

Actually, now that I think about it, I probably shouldn't be that surprised.

But I can still be upset.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Teaching Artist Entrepreneur | Part 1

I am wondering about the role of the teaching artist as entrepreneurs. The CAN Blog turned us on the new course at Writer's Corps about the history and presence of the teaching artist. I define the Teaching Artist as us folks who work within communities using the arts as tool for individual and social change. It's a cool outline - so check it out - but it leaves me with this question...Teaching Artists are always highlighted for the work that we do for other people. What are we doing for ourselves? How are we making sure that our needs are being met and that we are putting ourselves in the position of being able to manifest our dreams?

I am all about exploring the BUSINESS of being a teaching artist. This is our life's work, for goodness sake, we need to make sure that we are sustained in it. Financially, spiritually, creatively, practically. You get the idea.

Glitter & Razz is doing this work. And, I am looking for other teaching artist entrepreneurs. Are you out there?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Details

I am wondering this morning why I put myself in this position. The position of small business owner. I am an artist for God's sake. I'm not in this for the money. I mean, I like having money but I don't like to keep track of it. Coming or going. In fact, I don't really like to keep track of anything. I am not what you call the most detail-oriented person on the planet. I am big picture. I can see exactly where I want to get but not exactly all the steps it takes to get there. It's like with this blog. I know what I want this blog to I want it to contribute to society. But, I have a hard time paying attention to the fact that I have to post regularly in order to make that happen.

But then, I look at what I am good at. I am good at producing and directing experiences for people to think about things and feel good about thinking about things. To feel good about themselves and each other. I do that in my theater pieces and my workshops. Even parties. And, when I am working on these, I am all about the details. It's the details that make or break the experience.

So, here's why I have put myself in the position to stare down all of my challenges and deficiencies in order to build a successful business. It's about freedom. Sure, I could just go out there and try to “make it” as a theater artist and workshop leader. That's what I had been doing for years anyway. But instead, I decided that I was going to say “screw you” to the notion that an artist has to suffer for their art. To the notion that you are either totally “real” with your art and no one has ever heard of you or you are popular, which makes you a complete sell-out. To the notion that, in order to be successful you have to work 20 hours a day until you die.

The big picture vision of my business is that it will provide quality experiences for people that make them feel good while it also provides enough income for me and my partner, our family, and the people who work with us. Without us doing too much work. And it's going to work. Screw everyone who says otherwise.

I just need to find someone who will work out the details.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wild Turkeys and Questions of Sacrifice

I just saw some of these wild turkeys in my yard. I didn't just see them. I was in my bedroom with Sangita and the dog and we heard a huge thud at the window. After the requisite, "what was THAT?" we looked out and saw an enormous bird walking along the top of the fence that separates us from the neighbor in the back. Not knowing what it was, we googled it. A Wild Turkey. We watched it walk along the fence, jump down to our outdoor cooktop, walk along that, knock over one of the patio chairs, and fly away. It came back in the front yard and then the neighbor's yard a few moments later with a friend. Yes, 2 wild turkeys just hanging out on Lyman Road.

Of course, we automatically knew that these turkeys were trying to send us a message. When we looked up their meaning according to native american animal medicine cards, we discovered that turkeys are the ultimate sign of sacrifice. They give their lives so that the rest of us can live. It is all about not taking more than you need and focusing your life around the gifts that you can bring so that others will also have what they need. This blows my mind. Especially because this is the second time I have seen these birds in the last 2 weeks. I saw a herd (maybe 5-6) of them crossing the street in Walnut Creek a couple of weeks ago. Not only were they crossing the street, they were crossing the street that I was driving on and caused a brief traffic stop that made me say "what is going on up there?! I'm going to be late for my meeting!"

These turkeys want me to stop trying to get to meetings and pay attention to where I am using and sharing my energy in this world. These birds both fascinate me and scare me to death. Like, life, I guess. It makes me question what I can really give to people. I feel like I am holding back what I am really able to give. And I have some ideas about what that is, but it is fascinating and terrifying to explore it further. But the turkey is talking to me now. So, I guess I have to listen.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sick and Learning

That's where I have been. Sick. And Learning. The sick part is nothing to write about. Just the standard sniffling, sneezing, coughing, stuffy head thing. But the learning...ah...that's something else. My colleague, Kevin Rolston (ensemble member of OutLook), and I drove down to LA and back this past weekend for a weekend long intensive with Cornerstone Theater Company. Cornerstone is the such an amazing model of how to create high-quality, professional productions that involve community members every step of the way. Their workshop was so generous - literally a step-by-step of how they do what they do. We are ready to take it all and just run with it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, My Love!

Today is my partner/my love's birthday. Allison Kenny turns 29. We met and fell in love when she was 23. Do the math. It's been a long time. And I am so proud of her because, although she has a cold, she woke up today exploding with joy and peace and gratitude. She is comfortable in her own skin. She is finally at a point where she is embracing her gifts and talents as an artist, a teacher, a healer, a business owner, a powerful woman.

She inspires me everyday.

I'm a pretty lucky girl.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

World Community Arts Day

"We can either react in fear or anger to the state of our world thus becoming part of the problem or respond creatively and become part of the solution."

This quote above is why I do what I do. And today, World Community Arts Day, I feel very connected to all of the other people around the world who do what they do. Who dare to have faith in the idea that art can change the world. Yesterday, with Allison and Claire (in our group with no name), we explored the concept of Hope together. We used clay, read some other people's ideas and went on a walk through our neighborhood looking for signs of Hope. We talked a lot about the idea of "false hope." And I realized that some folks are so afraid of Hope because we tend to confuse Hope for Want.

They are not the same.

Want is a state of anticipation of something outside of ourselves. And this is a tricky state to be in because it makes us dependent on the future, on someone else, on something else. If we just "want" the world to change, then we will always be disappointed.

Hope, however, is a spiritual tool. It is the tool that honors Faith. Faith is a deep inner knowing that transcendence or resurrection - whatever you want to call it - a New Way - is possible. And Hope is what you do in every moment to honor that Faith. And you do it, despite all the messages you receive that say otherwise, because it is based on this inner knowing.

So today, as people around the world recognize that our creativity is our greatest power and greatest responsibility, I know that change is not only possible, it is imminent. This green circle represents the interconnectedness of Hope in action. It inspires us all to use our gifts to create the world that we want to live in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Personal Definition of Youth Development

Tomorrow, I have my first meeting with a new client. I am so excited that I am going to be doing some youth development training with the staff at LYRIC, an organization dedicated to LGBTQQ youth. This 20 year old organization has served thousands of young people from all over the Bay Area...all over the country really. It has proven itself to be a safe and dynamic place for youth to be and become exactly who they want to be. And now, the staff is in a process of organizational improvement to see how they can do their work better.

I think it is so cool when people/organizations are good at something and they remain committed to their own learning.

And when a youth organization models this kind of commitment to learning and growth, it is the coolest. Children and youth need to know that learning is not something that they can be done with when they graduate high school. On-going Learning means freedom, happiness, and fulfillment.

Here is what I am sharing with staff tomorrow as my personal definition of youth development. I am pretty proud of it...

Youth Development is process of radical change and growth that is rooted in many cultural traditions at the same time that it is politically and socially progressive. Youth Development is a simple concept to understand at the same time that it is a series of practices that take a great deal of presence, intention and planning to implement. Youth Development is the most effective approach in working with groups of young people at the same time that it is a peaceful, inclusive, and equitable worldview that supports all positive human development and has the potential to catalyze social change.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Enlightenment according to Seuss

It continues to amaze me...the power and imagination of Dr. Seuss. With the students in the afterschool program at the JCC in Berkeley, we are creating 3 plays that all have something to do with the themes of leadership and community in Yertle the Turtle. Now, I've known for a long time that Horton Hears A Who should be required reading for all teachers and activists, but this! I wonder how we can get it read at the Democratic National Convention. Maybe this guy Chuck Wagner is available for a public reading.